Monday, December 03, 2007

Letters from Sweden - conversations with an expatriate builder

A few months ago I got an email from a fellow by the name of Scott Hedges. He was a builder/carpenter/cabinetmaker as it turned out, and a fan of modern, a Dwell reader from nearly the start. He was from Michigan, but he was not in Michigan, at least not for the time being. A career move had taken his family to Sweden where he was being a keen observer of the building trades in the region around his home. He wrote me on this one day, towards the end of September because I imagine he could not contain it anymore - he had to tell someone, someone who would even care! I suppose he thought that guy, the one with the house plans, at least he would get it - and so I in turn have to share it with you, my readers, because like Scott I know that at least you would be somebody that would care, that would get it. What Scott found as he settled in to his new life in Sweden that the thing we modernists in the USA were struggling to find, swimming upstream, fighting to realize, a decent affordable well designed modern home, was flowing like milk and honey in Sweden. This opened up a correspondence between Scott, myself, and economist Jeffery Rous from University of North Texas and my design partner on the IBU competition entry. Over the course of the following weeks we poured over copious photos and web sites that Scott had accumulated and tried to come to terms with why what we struggle with so desperately here in the states comes with such ease and grace in Sweden. These are the Letters from Sweden and over the next few weeks I'm going to try to share with you the most significant parts of our correspondence as we all came away convinced that there was much to learn from the practices Scott observed. images from the Gotenehus (Yeah-ten-eh-hoose) website Here is what Scott said in his first introductory email to me: The reason that I'm writing though is that my family and I've moved to Sweden and have been very impressed by the state of modern and the rather unremarkable way it lives here. What I've seen in Sweden about home building and home buying strikes me as very different than what I'm aware of in the USA... Simply put the market place here is full of modern homes, and every larger house company offers them ... I guess part of my surprise stems from years reading in Dwell about "wow wouldn't it be nice if" ... and the stories of super talented creative people .. who are trying to put a product out there and risking your lives doing it ... and then I show up here and the locals want to know what is the big deal? ... "ho hum" which of these 100's of kinds of modern houses would you like delivered in a month, sign here". What would we all give to have hundreds of models of modern prefab houses available from vendors today? Why there? Why not here? Stay tuned! This series will continue.

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  1. I am looking forward to more from this series!

    What has always impressed me about Europe is how there is an abundance of evidence that modern design in architecture has been around for years and years. Even their old buildings and homes use what we would consider modern design principles today in the US. Things like large windows, proper orientation, plenty of natural light, open floorplans, efficient kitchens, small appliances, open showers, etc. We are more than just a few years behind in the US...

  2. I wish to make a little comment, not really related with construction, but with a concept.
    I often think about the word "modern" refered on today`s houses.
    This could be a little debate for the archiheads, but it still makes noise in my mind.
    We can consider that a "modern" house should be more properly related with modenism, (long time ago), instead of saying a "contemporary" house, which for me seems to be a better definition.
    I think the word "design" gets a little stronger, or at least interesting when we relate it to "contemporary" issues.
    what you guys think?


  3. Paulo, this is a frequent debate, about what is the proper term for things built today, in the spirit of today. I choose to not get too hung up on this. "Moco" is a term often used to encompass both the idea of Modern and Contemporary. I've coined the term "ReModern" to represent that we are doing modern again. When all is said and done the historians will decide what we call it. I'm happy to leave it to them and just get on with doing and living the stuff we like.

  4. Hi Lavandera,
    I think you are totally right.
    Sometimes I compare it with music...
    There are so many diferent styles, that maybe is a little absurd. Why don´t just call it "music"?
    The things often take shape related with their epoch, so yes, maybe historians would decide better how to call it.

  5. Hi, I am glad that I found this thread that talks about building methods in Europe. I myself am a fan of modern and am struggling to get myself into one of those houses here in the US.
    I had the same thoughts as your friend Scott from Sweden on the state of building industry in Europe. I am greatly impressed with what they can do there. I created my website few years back,, to try to make that point and have referenced many technologies and methodologies from over the pond, mostly Germany. I have been struggling with the affordable, modern, energy efficient and smart building issue here in the US for quite some time and have even thought of moving to Europe to fulfill my dream. Keep on building!

  6. Looks like you've accumulated some good resources on your site. I like the section on wood framed wall systems. The Swedes are using a variation on this type of construction.